The winter’s biggest snowstorm blanketed Aberdeen Friday night with a few inches of snow, making it a struggle for some homeless people in the city’s riverfront encampment to stay warm and make it through the night.
Leon Obi, who lives in a van along the Chehalis River, was outside melting a block of ice in a pot Saturday morning for coffee and soup broth. He said he pulled another camper into his van late last night who was sleeping outside in the snow by a dwindling campfire. Obi feared the man might not survive, so he woke him up.
“I told him, ‘No, you’re getting your butt in here to stay alive,’” said Obi as he prepares the coffee over a fire. “If you stay out there you’re not going to see morning.”
The two used blankets to stay warm in the van, which Obi said had its back window busted out and is now covered by a tarp that still lets the cold in.
“Man, that guy saved my life last night,” the other man said while getting out of the van. “I fell asleep by the fire, the fire ran out, but he woke my ass up.”
Some homeless people at the encampment faired a little better, sleeping in makeshift shacks with campfires inside the structure. Some of the shelters even have chimneys. But building a fire inside the shacks can be risky, and several shelters have already burned down this winter.
Others could be seen Saturday morning using chainsaws to cut off pieces of logs along the river for firewood.
David Walsh, who lives in the area, drove a pickup truck to the encampment Saturday to deliver firewood he cut down in his back yard, along with food and jackets to the campers. Walsh made several trips there throughout the day.
“I’ve been in this position before. It’s getting cold, so I want to make sure they have some kind of heat,” said Walsh. “I just thought I needed to come down here and do my part.”
Normally, the city only opens the locked gate for deliveries to the encampment on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Aberdeen Police Sergeant Darrin King said he made an exception for Walsh to deliver considering the harsh weather.
Revival of Grays Harbor, a homeless assistance non-profit, opened a temporary overnight shelter Saturday for people who need to escape the freezing weather. It’s located in the group’s day shelter space at 115 W. Heron St. in Aberdeen. It will stay open until the weather lets up, according to a Facebook post, and is a low-barrier shelter. Phil Calloway, president of Revival, said he has room for maybe 25 people if they need to sleep over, and added they have cots they plan to set up. He said the shelter would close its doors at 10 p.m. for those looking to spend the night.
The group will also serve food like hot dogs and ramen, Calloway said. Skye Clayton posted on Facebook that Revival is in need of donations for food, blankets, plates and eating utensils, and other supplies to help the homeless.
On Monday morning, Calloway said approximately 24 people have been staying at Revival’s shelter, all of whom have beds.
A large group of over a dozen volunteers visited the Aberdeen encampment Sunday giving out food, hygiene products and other supplies.
The Friendship House shelter, at 405 E Heron St., is open to women and children, including male children up to 9. The Union Gospel Mission shelter, at 405 E Heron St., is open to men over 18. Staying over at those two locations requires guests to be clean and sober. The Union Gospel Mission’s warming and day center will be open through the weekend from just prior to brunch at 10 a.m. to dinner, coffee and dessert at approximately 6 or 7 p.m., and is open to both genders.
Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson told The Daily World that after “conflicting information regarding cold weather shelter availability,” he held a meeting Sunday with several organizations that serve the homeless to ensure shelter is available for people seeking relief from the elements. He added that additional space will be made available should available shelters reach capacity.